Lang Dulay, living national treasure

Bobby Lagsa

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Lang Dulay, living national treasure
The preservation of her people’s identity and history woven into each of her Tnalak cloth is her contribution to Philippine culture and art

MANILA, Philippines – Her art tells the stories of the Tboli people living near Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. Her canvas is made of fine abaca fibers woven into Tnalak cloth and her designs infused with the history of her people have made her a national living treasure of this country.

Her name is Lang Dulay and she is in her 90s.

On Saturday, August 9, the world commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

The world continues to spin further as digital technology advances where tribes people have been continually lured to modern ways of living. Some of them have remained steadfast in preserving their culture like Lang Dulay.

The preservation of her people’s identity and history weaved into each of her Tnalak cloth is her contribution to Philippine culture and art. She was named a national living treasure in 1998 during the administration of President Fidel Ramos.

Lang Dulay started weaving when she was 12 years old. Now, she is passing on all her techniques to her granddaughters and students.

Lang Dulay shares that her mother, Luan Senig, taught her to weave.

WORK SPACE. Near Lang Dulay’s feet are  bamboo contraptions used for weaving designs.

In her humble workshop at the Manlilikha ng Bayan Center in Sitio Tukolefa, Lamdalag, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Lang Dulay sits at the center of the second floor of a traditional T’boli house.

Her 5 granddaughters are occupied with weaving T’nalak by the window. The place is well lighted because of the high ceilings and 4 wide windows that allow the light in all day long.

Near Lang Dulay’s feet are two bamboo contraptions used for weaving designs which she is using to guide other weavers.

But there are fewer Tboli weavers now and one doesn’t have to wonder why: weaving is a tedious and backbreaking process.

Abaca stems are pounded and stripped to produce the fibers. Further processing is needed to make the fibers even thinner. Strands are dyed by hand and carefully arranged on a bamboo frame.

One of her granddaughters, her translator, says her grandmother barely weaves now but all the designs are made by Lang Dulay. She knows at least 100 designs, among them, bankiring (hair), kabangi (butterfly), bulinglangit (clouds).

The finished product, the T’nalak, reflects the stories and struggles of her people.

Living treasure

Inside the workshop center, citations and photos of Lang Dulay adorn the walls. A photo of her with former president Ramos hangs prominently.

She was in her late 70s when she received the National Living Treasure (Manlilikha ng Bayan) award from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for her contribution in the preservation of their culture, and for her fine craftsmanship of the delicate abaca fibers.

A huge photograph of Lang Dulay sits in the right corner of the hall. On the opposite side is an article explaining to visitors the importance of the T’nalak in the identity of the Tboli and South Cotabato.

Lang Dulay always wears clothing made of T’nalak cloth since it is their custom to dress that way.

Lang Dulay wishes younger girls would be interested in weaving because it is only the women in their 30s who have remained interested in weaving. “The children are busy with their studies,” she says.

BURST OF COLOR. A detail of Lang Dulay's ornately embroidered blouse.

Finished fabrics are on display at the entrance of the hall. Each roll of Tnalak could be 5 to 8 meters long and it can take as much as 3 months to complete a roll.

Each roll is sold at P700 ($15.80) per meter, but the fabric that bears Lang Dulay’s name can fetch as much as P1,200 ($27) per meter.

No Tnalak cloth can be cut in half as it is considered sacred in Tboli culture.

In her workshop, visitors often drop by her place which has become a tourist attraction. For some, being in the presence of Lang Dulay alone could evoke an emotional tempest; a feeling of awe to be in the presence of a national treasure.

To take with you a piece of Tnalak weaved by Lang Dulay is like taking a piece of history of the Tboli people, and also a piece of art worthy of being displayed in one’s home. –

*$1 = P44

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